Deadline for subway to sea is a literal one

Times Staff Writer

Let’s begin with the quote of the week, courtesy of Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl:

“My plan is to be alive when the subway to the sea happens.”

It’s hard to knock such a plan. It may also be worth noting that Rosendahl is 62, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that his life expectancy is about 81. In other words, subway proponents and Rosendahl should mark the year 2026 on their calendars.

Rosendahl’s chances were increased last week when Congress repealed a ban on federal funding of subway tunneling in parts of the city. The repeal is part of a $516-billion appropriations bill that President Bush is expected to sign.


The repeal triggered a City Hall news conference at Union Station, where Rosendahl made his remarks, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he’s working on a funding plan.

Attentive readers may recall that the subway-to-the-sea extension from its terminus at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Santa Monica was one of the big promises Villaraigosa made during his 2005 campaign.

So why doesn’t he have a funding plan already -- now that he’s been in office more than 900 days?

I asked the mayor that question at the news conference. Here’s his response:

“You’d rain on any parade, wouldn’t you? Let me just say, Stevie -- and you’re at your best when you’re raining on parades. Let me explain something. . . . Tom Bradley ran for mayor and said he would get a subway in 18 months, and it took 18 years. Yet we all know him as the father of the subway . . .

“If this was so easy, someone would have done it a long time ago,” the mayor added.

This, in fact, is a very fair point for the mayor to make. The ban on tunneling on the Westside was put in place 22 years ago out of safety concerns by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who later changed his mind after new evidence showed that tunneling would be safe and credited the mayor with creating the momentum to get the ban repealed.

“I offered to reopen this issue 10 years ago,” Waxman said. “But the MTA wasn’t interested because they didn’t have the money. The mayor said he wanted the option” to pursue the subway project.

And Waxman, added, the mayor was persuasive.

What’s next?

The subway still is far from being approved by the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The only thing the MTA has approved so far is an in-progress study of whether a subway is the best option for Westside mass transit. It is also starkly clear that no one has $5 billion sitting around for a subway. At best, the federal government usually kicks in only half the cost of such projects, and a 1998 voters’ prohibition on using local sales tax money for subway tunneling remains in place.

“It has to be repealed,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge after the news conference. “No one in Congress is going to give us a dollar if it isn’t.”

More bad news. Previous sales tax money for the MTA already is earmarked for other projects. This is the reason LaBonge believes a parcel tax is needed, while his colleague Jack Weiss is pushing for a partnership with private firms to get the subway built.

And that’s the million-dollar question, so to speak: Will local pols ask voters for any kind of tax increase?

The mayor won’t say, although his office has explored the option in the past.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. The presidential election in November should offer the kind of high turnout that is needed to get a tax measure for this type of project passed. The thinking in political circles is the higher the turnout, the more mass transit users will vote.

The bet here, too, is that pols would go for a sales tax increase rather than a parcel tax -- which is often a great way to incite opposition from homeowners. That said, a sales tax increase would be controversial because Los Angeles County’s sales tax is already among the highest in the state.

A half-penny sales tax hike also holds the promise of raising in the neighborhood of $500 million a year for transit projects, including the subway. Getting that kind of money would be a big score for politicians who like to talk about mass transit.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel didn’t say whether she would support a tax increase but offered this observation: “The best way to get support for mass transit is to actually build it.”

On a traffic-related note, what happened recently in Los Angeles?

The city installed two modern parking meters in a municipal lot in North Hollywood. The mayor’s press office even provided a photo showing what a heavenly moment it was. Attentive readers may recall that the city’s 40,000 parking meters are old, easily vandalized, gobble coins like Jabba the Hutt and sometimes spontaneously reset.

The new meters accept coins, credit cards and debit cards, and you can sign up online -- at -- to pay by cellphone.

The city is planning to roll out more of the machines in the next few months.

If they work, it could mean fewer unnecessary citations and more revenue for the city. And if they don’t work, please e-mail us your stories.

What agency may be thanking its lucky stars today?

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

As we’ve noted, agency officials have said they need a big, snowy winter in the West to avoid water shortages next year. Until recently, things didn’t look good.

Then came last week’s storms. Mammoth Mountain was reporting that 3 feet of snow fell, and snow sensors across the Eastern Sierra -- from which melted snow flows to the city’s aqueduct -- were showing serious improvement.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but . . . the winter is still young and a dry La Nina weather pattern is predicted to prevail in Southern California this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expecting a dry winter for the entire Southwest.

What did the council’s planning committee do about McMansions last week?

It punted the issue. Again. More questions need to be answered. So the committee will take up a proposed ordinance for the third time at its Jan. 8 meeting.

Many other cities already have dealt with the issue of outsized homes, and it will be interesting to see if or when the ordinance reaches the full council for a sorely needed debate.

And our little gift to the City Council?

Amid all the grandstanding, backslapping, fundraising and other antics by L.A. politicians, it’s easy to overlook some accomplishments in the last year:

* Large apartment and condominium buildings can now participate in the city’s recycling program.

* Although members probably waited too long to do it, the council greatly increased relocation fees paid to tenants who are evicted when their apartments are converted to condominiums.

* About 22,000 storm drains have been installed with filters to catch garbage before it flows into the L.A. River. There are, however, thousands more drains that need to be similarly outfitted.

* The council approved a master plan for the revitalization of the river. The plan smartly breaks up the effort into more than 200 achievable projects.

Next week: Looking ahead to 2008.